Ninety-nine years ago the birth of the Copa America, the sport’s oldest continental competition, brought about a rapid change to the game of football.
Held almost annually in the early years, the tournament fostered a dramatic rise in the standards of South American sides – made evident when Uruguay arrived unheralded at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris and walked off with the gold medal. They enchanted observers with the beauty of their play and led to a question being asked: how can we find out which really is the best team around, given that professionals cannot enter the Olympics?
The answer, of course, was the creation of the World Cup – first staged, and won, by Uruguay, just 14 years after they had claimed the inaugural Copa.
Since then, the Copa has been through a number of phases, at times playing host to the best football in the world, at others neglected. It was brought back in 1987, and taken round all of South America’s
10 footballing nations, but it found itself overshadowed by another significant development in South American football – the introduction, in 1996, of the marathon format of World Cup qualification, where all 10 nations play each other home and away, a change which has done wonders for the standard of the less traditional nations.
For a few years the Copa seemed superfluous, and between 1997 and 2004 four versions were played, all with plenty of understrength teams. Since then, though, the Copa has found its place in the calendar.
Number of Copa America titles: 14
Last Copa title: 1993
Coach: Gerardo Martino
Finish in the most recent Copa: Quarterfinals
Player to watch: Lionel Messi — Messi secured his fourth Champions League crown on Saturday, but has yet to win a senior title with his country. Is this the tournament where he breaks his duck?
Greatest player: Diego Maradona — To many, Maradona is the greatest player ever. El Diez's ball control and skill was second to none, and his feats at the 1986 World Cup will live on forever in the sport's memory.
Greatest achievement: The 1978 and 1986 World Cup victories. Argentina lifted its first World Cup in spectacular fashion — at home, in extra time against one of the finest sides in the game's history. The 1986 title was the second of three final game appearances over a span of four World Cups
Number of Copa America titles: 15
Last Copa title: 2011
Coach: Oscar Tabares
Finish in the most recent Copa: Winner
Player to watch: Edinson Cavani — Cavani will have to shoulder an increased scoring load in the absence of Luis Suarez, who is still serving an international suspension for biting Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup.
Greatest player: Juan Alberto Schiaffino — One of the goal scorers in Uruguay's famous defeat of Brazil at the Maracana in 1950, the man nicknamed "The God of Football" scored five goals in nine World Cup matches for La Celeste.
Greatest achievement: The 1950 World Cup victory in Brazil. Uruguay's "Maracanazo" victory, silencing 200,000 Brazilians in the 1950 World Cup's final game, remains one of sport's greatest upsets and gave the tiny nation its second Cup triumph.
Number of Copa America titles: 2
Last Copa title: 1979
Coach: Ramon Diaz
Finish in the most recent Copa: Runners-up
Player to watch: Roque Santa Cruz — After making the 2011 final, the elegant attacking player will push for one more chance to win the Copa this time around in Chile.
Greatest player: Arsenio Erico — One of the finest to ever pull on a shirt in the Argentine first division, the Independiente legend was said to have inspired a young Alfredo Di Stefano.
Greatest achievement: Paraguay collected South American titles in 1953 and 1979. More recently, Los Guaranies backed up a World Cup quarterfinal appearance in 2010 with a Copa America final berth in 2011.
Number of Copa America titles: 0
Last Copa title: Never
Coach: Winfried "Winnie" Schafer
Finish in the most recent Copa: Did not participate
Player to watch: Rodolph Austin — Austin, who guided the Reggae Boyz to the 2014 Caribbean Cup title, must help his side navigate much more difficult opposition in Chile.
Greatest player: Alan "Skill" Cole — "Skill," one of Jamaica's greatest footballers and the youngest player ever to represent his country, quit football to become road manager for good friend Bob Marley in the 1970s.
Greatest achievement: Qualifying for the 1998 World Cup in France. Jamaica made history in 1997 when the tiny Caribbean nation qualified for its first-ever World Cup.